For over a century, the works
of the Brontë sisters have fascinated audiences all over the world, including
those in the East Asian countries. A “disproportionately high number of
Japanese women” make the trip to the sisters’ home each year (Flanagan). In
China, reading Jane Eyre in primary
and middle schools has been made compulsory since the beginning of this century
(Wu and Huang). In 2016, Patricia Park has published her adaptation of the book
named Re Jane, giving the
contemporary heroine a Korean-American background much like her own. Each of
the above countries has seen at least one musical, operatic or theatrical
adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale in the past ten years, most (if
not all) of them essentially Western.

In 1995, Paul
Gordon (music) and John Caird (book) wrote a musical based on Charlotte
Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which made it to
Broadway in 2000. In 2009, the play was translated into Japanese and became
such a success that a revival followed in 2012. Indeed, watching the songs on
YouTube is a sheer delight: the production looks very professional and the
singers are sublime. Both main actors fit their roles perfectly: Matsu Takako
has her black hair parted in the middle, slicked back behind her ears and
braided, and is wearing a Quakerish black dress and a single pearl brooch, all perfectly
reminiscent of the title character (Brontë 94; ch. 11). Hashimoto Satoshi, with
his broad chest, wild hair and expressive face (often frozen in a painful,
brooding mien) is a solid presence on stage and feels almost realer than the
original Edward Fairfax Rochester himself. Nevertheless, something is missing.
Upon further examination it becomes clear that, in present time of
globalisation and nationalisation, changing the language alone is not enough to
give Jane Eyre her real voice in Japan and make her relatable to a wide
(female) Asian public.

At the
beginning of the essay, four East-Asian countries have been named or hinted at:
Japan, China, North and South Korea. There are several reasons, however, why
the focus here lies solely on a Japanese film production. China and North-Korea
have been communist countries for the better part of the past century,
rendering the class and wealth division in Victorian England as a modern theme
essentially futile. Neither Korea has ever shown an interest in expansion,
negating another topic: colonialism and missionary work (Wu and Huang). Whether
a vaguely similar political background is enough to bring Japan and England
together is, of course, a valid question.It is often
assumed that Western and Eastern cultures are difficult to reconcile. The
Japanese cinema, for one, has inherited absolutely nothing from the long kabuki theatre tradition, nor does it
use traditional Japanese music, because films are still considered to be
something “of the West” (Richie and Anderson 9). Nonetheless, at least two
great film directors have seamlessly transferred English classics into Japan.
Akira Kurosawa has filmed three of Shakespeare’s plays: Hamlet, Macbeth and King
Lear, “not only integrating the pageantry and culture of feudal Japan but
also highlighting cultural concerns of loyalty and social responsibility”
(Shamburg and Craighead 76). As recently as 1988, Yoshishige Yoshida directed
the Japanese version of Wuthering
Heights, a movie which has had a “profound influence on some of the
country’s most important 20th-century women writers, such as Yuko Tsushima and
Taeko Kono” (Flanagan; Ima-Izumi 138). These adaptations not only prove that
the naturalisation1
of Jane Eyre is possible, but that
resituating the story might add new dimensions to the original.In “Charlotte
Brontë and the Woman Question,” Sangeeta Dutta states that, in England,mid-19th century saw the emergence of a female
literary community coincide with the social phenomenon of an excess of female
population, which stimulated widespread reassessment of women’s role and
relationship. Women’s work has meant work for others, women were defined as
wholly passive, projected as selfless. Work for self-development was in direct
conflict with the subordination and repression inherent in the feminine ideal.
(2311)Conversely, the Japanese
“woman writer” became, at the end of the nineteenth century, a force to be
reckoned with (Yoshio 6). Yoshiko Enomoto finds many parallels between
Charlotte Brontë and Higuchi Ichiyô’s (1872-1896) lives and works, even though
it is possible that Higuchi had never read Brontë’s books: one of the chief
similarities is their characters’ “strong sense of honour” and “defiant
passion” (Hirata Tokuboku qtd. in Yoshiko 251). One page later, the author
explicitly states that “the societies of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) and Victorian
England (1837-1901) provided an oppressive environment for women, full of
restrictions which confined them to their ‘proper sphere’ and fixed roles”
(252). An interesting addendum is made in the Larousse Japan from 1981, stating that the “wave of puritanism” which
accompanied the Meiji period in Japan was presumably caused by the growing
touristic interest from the West (Pezeu-Massabuau 96). The women in both
countries seem to have struggled with the same dilemmas: duty versus
individuality, marriage versus self-development and work, the role of woman
versus the role of man.            Another similarity between the two countries’ cultures
seems to lie in their geographic peculiarity: namely, the close quarters in
which most townsmen are forced to live on both islands have caused a code of
conduct to develop. In Japan, these rules have been written down and comprise
of such topics as duty to others, self-control and courtesy (Pezeu-Massabuau
84). World-wide, the culture in Great-Britain is known for its general civility
– at least on the surface. Especially in the Victorian era, self-control was an
indispensable virtue; it is nonetheless clear that under that mask ran a strong
current of passion, evident in the ever-popular writings of the Brontës. Jane
Austen and others.            Lastly, the psychology of the modern Japanese woman might
explain her unrelenting longing for little plain Jane, making her own way in
the world, following her moral compass in everything, yet still passionately in
love with a strong man. According to Minae Mizumura, whose 2002 novel Honkaku Shosetzu is an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Japanese women  have obtained new freedoms in the past
century – freedoms which, like all things new and unknown, might be considered
scary and uprooting. “Embracing these freedoms … created a conflict between
comforting traditional values and the exhilaration of following one’s heart, a
theme that the Brontës explored in their novels” (qtd. in Flanagan).            The parallels between Meiji Japan and Victorian England seem
manifold, and so do those between the present day countries. This opens ample opportunities
for cinematic adaptation. Depending on which era the film is set in, the
writers and directors could focus on different main themes of the original
story: e.g. the dilemma between duty and personal freedom in feudal Japan, or, like
Patricia Park does in Re Jane, the juxtaposition
between the old traditional values and modern freedoms and opportunities.Considering Jane
Eyre’s long and persisting popularity in East Asia and the many parallels
between the English and Japanese cultures, the next film adaptation of Brontë’s
classic should be cast, set and filmed in Japan.

1 In
Translation Theory: “replacing an element of the original linguistic text with
one matching or equivalent in the target context” (Holmes 48). 

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